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Monday, February 6, 2023

Pandemic Daze: Then The Plague Visited Me

 I didn't fully understand this when the pandemic began, but there hasn't been (and likely never will be) a point at which it is truly "over."  For many of us, myself included, life has largely returned to some sort of normal, but Covid continues to be a monkey wrench in our plans.

My officemate wasn't feeling well toward the end of last week, but she had tested negative for Covid, so she still came in because there was plenty of work to do that wasn't going to take care of itself.  However, on Friday evening, after losing her sense of taste and smell, she retested and got a positive test.  She texted me to let me know.  I, in turn, texted some friends who I had planned to see on Saturday to see how they felt about seeing me after I'd been exposed to Covid.  We decided to have a video chat instead.  But by the next morning, I wasn't even feeling well enough to do that.

Considering the number of people I'm around in my job, I've been lucky to have held out so long without getting Covid.  I actually think there's a possibility that I had it at the end of 2019 (when it was apparently already circulating in the US, but nobody knew what it was), but I haven't had any confirmed Covid infections up until now.

I feel pretty lousy.  I haven't been sleeping well, and have a splitting headache I can't get rid of.  Still, so far, this hasn't been one of my worst sicknesses.  Whatever I had at the end of 2019 was worse, for instance.  This would indicate to me that the vaccines are doing their job in making symptoms milder.

Even though our lives have largely returned to normal, Covid still gets special status among diseases.  The earliest I can return to work is next Monday, and that's only if I haven't had a fever in 24 hours and don't have severe symptoms.  My direct supervisor tells me I can do telework if I feel up to it, which I may do later in the week so I can at least keep up with some paperwork and virtually attend a couple of meetings I have.

I wonder if there will come a time when Covid is treated like any other sickness.  But I'm grateful that my main concerns right now are being uncomfortable and inconvenienced, rather than worrying that I might need to be hospitalized.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Few Highlights Of 2022

 I'm sure this is a terrible cliche, but the older I get, the faster time seems to pass.  In that spirit, I wanted to capture a few of the highlights of 2022.  

1.  Clean bill of health.  For those of you who have never found a lump in their breast before, determining whether or not you have to worry about it is a multistep procedure, and sometimes lengthy.  First, I went to my primary care physician who confirmed that it wasn't my imagination, I had a lump.  Then I had to schedule a mammogram.  I was lucky in that someone had cancelled their appointment; otherwise, I would have had a much longer wait to find out any more information.  (I think this backlog was due to the pause on non-essential medical care during the height of the pandemic.  I feel very sorry for anyone who had any type of health scare during the first several months of the pandemic!)  This is sometimes the end of the story, but they were unable to determine what type of lump I had through a mammogram and ultrasound, so I had to schedule a needle biopsy.  The whole series of appointments gave me several weeks to build the lump up in my mind and worry, so it was a tremendous relief to learn that the lump was benign.

2. Sewing my own jeans.  I've gotten very into sewing in the past several years, but making jeans, complete with rivets, a metal jeans button, and contrasting topstitching was something new for me.  I won't lie--it's a lot of effort to sew jeans.  But for someone who has very few ready-to-wear options that fit, it's also quite liberating.  The jeans I made fit better than any jeans I've bought.

3.  Settling into a "good" job.  I distinguished myself on the career front by having three jobs and a period of unemployment during 2022.  At the beginning of the year, I was working at a skilled nursing facility.  I left that job due to woefully insufficient hours and practices at the facility that I felt were unethical.  Thus began a period of unemployment with endless rounds of job applications and interviews.  I then worked for a few months for a private practice, which I left when my tentative offer with a school district became a firm offer due to woefully insufficient hours and a chaotic working atmosphere.  When I graduated, I did not think I wanted to work for a school district, but it's actually going very well, and after a series of "bad" jobs, I appreciate having a salary and benefits again.  Life is uncertain, but I would like to think that may days of job applications and interviews are over.

4.  Seeing family and friends in person.  I won't get into each specific visit here, but will just say that after the pandemic, I will never take these for granted again.

5.  An amazing dolphin sighting.  This happened at the end of the year, during a post-Christmas trip to the NC coast with my family.  We've often seen dolphins on these trips, but the sightings always amounted to seeing fins moving with that characteristic dolphin motion.  This time, it was a lot of fins, more than we've ever seen. Then, they started jumping out of the water!  It was like dolphins you would see on a nature show.  I don't know if I'll ever be lucky enough to see such a display again, but it was an amazing way to end the year.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

A Mass Transit First For Me

 Picture the scene:  Last Monday, I hurried into the Metro station to start my commute to work.  My rolling backpack somehow didn't make it through the gate with me, and in frustration, I picked it up to lift over the gate without putting my SmarTrip card away first.  And then I hear the loud crack of cheap chintzy plastic...

The whole thing didn't seem to bode well for the rest of the day, or even the rest of the week.  I was also bummed because I had had my previous SmarTrip card from 2007 until 2021 when they started replacing the fare gates and everyone had to get new cards.  At that point, I was already inside one station, so my best hope was to ride to my destination station and hope my broken card would let me out.  It wouldn't, but I guess the station manager decided that I didn't look like a fare evader because he let me just walk through the gate when I told him what happened.  I bought a new SmarTrip card for my trip home and stewed about the amount of money that was left on my broken card.

Then, it occurred to me.  I had registered my previous SmarTrip card in order to receive transit benefits.  I wasn't sure if I had registered this one, but since I had the pieces with the identification number still on it, I probably still could register it and then recover the funds.  This took some time since, of course, I didn't remember any of my log in information.  But I managed to register both the broken SmarTrip card and the card I bought to replace it.  (Public service message to anyone riding DC Metro or any other transit system requiring a fare card:  Make sure you register your card.  You never know when your card will be lost--or broken--at the critical time when you've just reloaded money onto it).

There didn't seem to be a way to transfer the funds from the broken card to the new card.  I ended up calling the SmarTrip card customer service line.  I'll admit that I wasn't very optimistic, but the person who helped had the funds transferred from my old card to my new card by the time I went home in the afternoon.  All's well that ends well for this mass transit first, but I'm being much more careful with my chintzy plastic SmarTrip card now...

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Summer 2022 Balcony Gardening Bust

 I wrote here last year about my balcony garden, which was relatively successful in spite of probably insufficient sunlight.  I got some cherry tomatoes (as did various critters who visited), and I got loads of basil.  This year was different.

I think part of the problem was that I decided to branch out and grow kale on the balcony.  I bought three starter plants from a nursery, and at first, they looked like a smashing success.  Then came the whiteflies.  For those who have never had the supreme pleasure of seeing them, they are tiny white flying insects that feed on the bottoms of plant leaves.  When you water the plant, they all fly up like a disgusting cloud, but never seem to be deterred for long.  Evidently, they enjoy kale as much as I do.

After it became apparent that they were destroying the kale plants, I pulled up the sad, skeletal remains of the kale and threw them out.  They then decided to settle for my mint (a new mint plant this year, since my old faithful plant finally died).  They haven't killed it yet, but it's not for lack of effort.

Tomatoes were another real disappointment; I didn't get a single one.  My mom suggested that I may have inadvertently bought a determinate variety of tomato and that a heat wave may have destroyed all of the tomatoes as they were developing.  It seems plausible, given the weather over the summer.  I kept hoping they would develop, but after listening to two podcast hosts based in Canada talking about their tomatoes, I realized the chances that my Virginia tomatoes were just delayed were slim.

My basil has fared better than my other plants this summer, but I didn't have the copious amounts I did last summer.  I've even had to buy bunches of basil from the farmers market to get all the pesto I want.  I'm not sure what went wrong, but it's a disappointment.

According to the interwebs, marigolds may help repel whiteflies, so I think I'll try planting some of those next year with the hope of protecting all of my plants.  Otherwise, I guess I'll have to be careful which tomatoes I get and hope for the best for a bumper crop of basil.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Value Of The Second Opinion

 Scott and I have been homeowners for just about two years now.  One of the big differences between owning and renting is dealing with repairs.  In theory, as a renter, the landlord is supposed to fix things for free (in practice, this seems to vary considerably.  I never had a problem getting someone to come and take a look at whatever was broken, but getting them to actually fix it was something else!).  Now, we have to find repair technicians and pay.  The upside to paying is that they generally will actually fix problems because they want us to be happy.  But not always, as it turns out.

Shortly after we moved in to our condo, we signed up for a program with a local company that deals in both HVAC and plumbing.  With this program, we get two HVAC inspections and one plumbing inspection per year.  We also get a discount on parts and labor, as well as progressively larger discounts on new hot water heaters and HVAC units depending on the number of years we spend in the program.  Our thought in doing this was that neither of us know anything about either HVAC or plumbing, and we wanted a professional to look at both systems regularly to prevent major problems that could be brewing.

One relatively minor problem we've had since the beginning is that our hot water heater runs out of hot water pretty quickly.  This becomes more of an issue on mornings when we're both trying to get to work and take showers back-to-back.  Whoever takes the second shower definitely gets the short end of the stick.

Last year, when we had our plumbing inspection, I asked the plumber about this.  He drew up an estimate for a diagnostic that would cost several hundred dollars and a new hot water heater, which would cost even more.  He told me that I could have the diagnostic done, but that if the hot water heater couldn't be repaired, it would just be money down the drain (haha), and I'd end up buying a new hot water heater anyway.  His take was that I should just skip to the new hot water heater.  I told him I'd think about it.  We did discuss replacing the hot water heater over the past year, but due to my employment "disruptions" and the cost, we decided it was best to put it off.

Fast forward to this year's plumbing inspection, which we had today.  A different plumber came out this time, someone who had replaced parts in both toilets when they had crapped out (haha).  We asked him about the hot water heater, and he told us that that it was likely that either an element or a thermostat was out.  He said he could run a diagnostic, and that he recommended that we just replace all the elements and thermostats at once since they were all likely the same age and would likely all need to be replaced in short order.  And...the kicker is he did all of this for less money that last year's plumber estimated just for the diagnostic!

It's uncomfortable to have to conclude that last year's plumber was trying to fleece us, but it's hard to come up with an alternative explanation.  It probably didn't help that Scott wasn't home for this last year, and I'm a woman.  I also realize that last year's plumber asked me first thing whether I'd had a plumbing inspection before, which in retrospect makes me think he was trying to figure out what he could get away with.  In any case, the experience has reminded me of the value of getting multiple opinions before shelling out large sums of money.  After talking to today's plumber, I feel that I better understand the hot water heater, too.  I hope that knowledge will serve me well if anyone tries to pull a similar move in the future.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Large Produce Purchases Are What Happen When You're Busy Making Other Plans

 Hmm.  Well, I know I hadn't posted in a while, but I didn't remember how long it had been!  In a nutshell, life has kept me busy.  I did ultimately start working again, but, having anticipated that it might not be a good long-term fit, kept some other application processes going.  Between my current job, interviews for other jobs, and paperwork associated with other opportunities, I've had a pretty full schedule.

This isn't to say that things have been all bad!  For one thing, I finally have a job offer I feel optimistic about.  Also...a couple weeks ago, a 5-pound box of mushrooms came into my life.

There is a mushroom vendor at our farmers market.  They sell a lot of small containers of fresh, pristine looking mushrooms.  I buy them sometimes, but mushrooms are somewhat expensive compared to some other foods, so I've never really gone all out on my purchases.  But!  They sometimes sell a 5-pound box of mushroom "seconds".  The first time I saw one of these at their stand, I was intrigued, but told myself that I didn't have the time or the plan to deal with quite so many mushrooms at once.  After we left, of course, I immediate regretted not having gotten it.  Then, the next time I saw one of these boxes, I had arrived about a minute too late, and someone else was buying it.  So, when I saw it again a couple weeks ago, I jumped to buy it and declared the next week "mushroom week."  

Getting through all of the mushrooms was a fun challenge, but a challenge all the same.  I love mushrooms and will happily eat them for several meals a day, but I'm not sure Scott is quite as enthusiastic about them.  I finally got to try a recipe for dry rub mushrooms, which was interesting, but I might not try again.  I also got to make a tart absolutely laden with mushrooms, and more than one egg dish with mushrooms.

There will almost certainly be a next time for this mushroom venture, although I've promised Scott that I won't do it immediately.  Next time, I will make a mushroom stew recipe that my dad and I both found in the NY Times and marked for future reference.  Also, next time, I'll know that oyster mushrooms keep much better in the fridge than pioppino mushrooms and plan my order of consumption accordingly.

In the meantime, though, there is a large box of mangos I bought last week from an Indian grocery store to enjoy.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Thoughts On Power Outages

 During thunderstorms following unseasonably hot weather, we lost power last night.  This power outage lasted several hours.  I've experienced longer power outages before, but I realized while sitting in the dark last night that it had been a number of years since a power outage had caused inconvenience for me beyond having to reset the clocks.  With that, I bring you the various epiphanies I had last night, with the (possibly unrealistic) hope that I won't be repeating the experience anytime soon.

1. In spite of my hopes, I (and you) might experience more frequent power outages.  I'm no meteorologist and I know next to nothing about electricity.  However, I do know from life experience that power outages often happen during storms, which are increasing in both frequency and severity.  Having grown up in North Carolina, I'm no stranger to summer thunderstorms, but I'm often struck and how much more violent storms seem now than they did when I was a child.  So in my mind, it stands to reason that more frequent and severe storms may lead to more frequent power outages.  Yet one more reason--on top of so many already--to take meaningful action on the climate.

2. Hand-cranked devices rule, battery-operated devices drool (and leak battery acid).  I connected some dots last night.  We've had battery-operated flashlights we've had to throw away because they've gotten horribly sticky, apparently for no reason.  The same thing happened last night with a hand-cranked radio with battery back-up.  I hadn't used it since losing power during Hurricane Sandy.  Well, we tried to use it last night, but it was incredibly sticky (and also had stopped working) and I had a lightbulb moment that the stickiness was probably coming from batteries that had long ago corroded.  Fortunately, we had one hand-cranked flashlight and one hand-cranked lantern, which were delightfully un-sticky and worked quite well.  If you're considering an impulse purchase today, one of those wouldn't be a bad way to go.

3.  Pets aren't happy about the power outage, either.  At least Stella wasn't.  The last apartment we rented before buying our condo had one of those climate control systems where heat and AC couldn't coexist and they had to switch back and forth with the seasons.  Of course, with weather patterns becoming less predictable, this invariably led to lengthy spells of discomfort while the management tried to decide if the hot/cold spell was some sort of anomaly or a true change in seasons.  Stella used to get pretty grumpy during the hot spells when we didn't have AC, so it's not surprising that she was unhappy last night when we had no AC to alleviate three days of temperatures over 90 degrees.  She spent much of the night meowing loudly, possibly thinking that Scott and I were just being dense and if she could only be loud enough we might turn on the AC so we could all be comfortable.

4.  Sitting in the dark makes you tired.  I was struck at how early I became drowsy, sitting in the dark, even with a couple of light-emitting devices.  Of course, falling asleep in bed was another story, due to it being hot and stuffy and certain cats complaining bitterly!